It was Plato who observed that "...rhythm and harmony permeate the inner part of the soul more than anything else, affecting it most strongly and bringing it grace." The Christian Reformer Martin Luther, who was not in the habit of agreeing with Plato, even said that "...next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world"! .
Today, thanks to electronic media, music of all kinds is available to us as never before. Furthermore, the Western tradition has been amazingly productive of richly satisfying music in many forms. There is absolutely no need to follow the contemporary fashion and simply confine our experience of music to what can be played on an electric guitar!
PROFOUND AND ENDURING
However, the fact is that it was Christocentric worship, rooted in biblical precedent, that provided the original impetus for the cultivation of music and much of the best music has been composed, and still is being composed, affirming and expressing those great truths. In today's society, which seems largely disconnected from faith or even antagonistic to it, much of our great musical heritage may seem that much more inaccessible to many people, hard to appreciate, easy to misunderstand. GAPS ARTS, a forum for exploring the interface between the arts, culture, and theology, can provide occasional opportunities to revisit this heritage holistically, in an attitude of receptivity to both the music and the faith that has inspired it.
The illustration is of King David, 'the sweet psalmist of Israel' in a celestial setting, with four musicians, above and below. At the corners are figures representing Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance-virtues necessary in all the arts. It is the frontispiece to the Vivian Bible of Tours, c.845.
In the 4 years from mid-1723 to mid-1727, in the city of Leipzig, there occurred the most impressive outpouring of creativity on the part of one individual in the whole of human history, in terms of both quantity and quality of achievement, at the very highest level. Modern scholarship can tell us more or less what happened.
We also need to ask: How and why? How can we benefit today? What can we learn? And as we grope for answers, we can enjoy and marvel at the music itself today, more than ever before.
Warren Prestidge has an M.A. in English and a B.D. Hons in Theology. Like Dante, he has a love of both the Bible and 'pagan' literature, as well as classical music and the arts in general.He has taught English at both university and secondary school, and has been a Christian pastor and lecturer for 35 years.